Everything is still super raw. I'm exhausted but can't sleep. That's why I'm up past midnight, my favorite time of the day, watching and Ami and Birdie's peaceful sleeping. It's been a long week and this was a hell of a way to get broken into whelping my first litter.
My vet saw four puppies on ultrasound. He was confident he didn't count puppies multiple times, but he may have missed one or two. It's not uncommon for a puppy or two to be resorbed, so I tried to mentally prepare myself for that, all the while hoping for 5 or 6.
I checked fetal heartbeats with my cheap doppler around day 45 and found 5. But didn't want to jinx myself, so I kept it quiet. Even from my husband. Ami was from a litter of 8 and Anu was from a litter of 7, so I'd hoped for larger, but 5 was a decent sized litter. Ami progressed through her pregnancy normally. She didn't always want to eat, but honestly, she's never been terribly interested in her food so it wasn't a huge surprise. With toppers she would eat well enough and I fed enough for a modest sized litter.
At the x-ray they saw two puppies. I'd had a sinking feeling all week. Ami's weight hadn't increased like it had in previous weeks, it was holding steady right as she was supposed to be gaining most. The day before the x-ray I finally broke down and used my doppler again and only found two heartbeats, so the x-ray count was confirmation of what I'd already feared. I knew it had been a possibility but I cried, probably more than was warranted. A breeder friend of mine thought she saw
another skeleton tucked up in Ami's ribcage but I kept my expectations low.
I talked with my vet. Did he think she could deliver the puppies naturally or were they too big? No, they seemed a reasonable size. Did he think her progesterone would drop and trigger labor with only two puppies? In his experience he thought she would. He asked if I wanted to schedule a c-section, in his best estimation though everything would work out. I trusted that (and don't think I was wrong to ultimately) and opted to see how things went. He gave me his number for emergencies, even though he was at a local dog show that weekend. I went home and reduced Ami's food intake accordingly.
Maybe it was good, because my grief was already out of the way by the time we got to labor a week later, though it was a rough week leading up to Ami's due date. Our van started hemorrhaging oil. We got it fixed...but now it's leaking again, though not as bad. Our washer cracked a drain pump and sent water pouring into our living room. We got it fixed...though now it's leaking again. Bad luck plagued that week.
Ami's temperature dropped while I was at a therapy dog visit with Anubi that I hadn't been able to reschedule. But my husband, Whitman, who is a superstar and pays attention when I talk all things dog, even though he's not really that interested, caught the start of the temp drop for me. The temperature drop comes as the bitch's progesterone plummets to trigger labor.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Ami's progesterone was dropping and labor would trigger. Sure enough, 28 hours later, well within a typical window of time, Ami started digging and pacing and shifting uncomfortably. She never panted, but her breathing came quicker and harder. I could feel the puppies (or so I thought) being very active (ultimately it was actually just Birdie alone doing the conga). This was the start of stage 1 labor. For the next four hours my friend sat with me until Whitman came home. We watched the signs and occasionally her side would tense or ripple - so subtle that if it was a dog with more coat, you never would have noticed. But we didn't see anything large, no pushing, nothing more than the very occasional micro-contraction. And then no ripples at all after an hour or two. Still within normal for a bitch. I talked to several breeder friends who weren't concerned. Stage 1 labor can often go on for 24-36 even 48+ hours with nothing at all wrong, they assured me. And that matched everything my reading and research had told me. I slept fitfully that night and Ami slept little.
By the morning it seemed like her labor was progressing more - shivering, panting, more digging than before. Essentially all the signs as before but more and closer together. Everything was pretty much on track. I texted my vet, because I was antsy, and he confirmed, nothing to be concerned about yet. I had been pretty active on social media prior to Ami's labor but I had nothing to update while I waited. Really honestly, nothing was wrong outwardly. Ami's vitals were fine, her temperature was fine. The puppy was noticeably active. Every 4-6 hours, I'd checked fetal heartrate on my doppler and the heartrates were in a textbook 200-230bpm range.
Ami started stage 1 labor around 6p on Saturday, which was her due date (63 days from ovulation). At 1p on Sunday (under 24 hours later), I got a reading of 230bpm on the Doppler. Less that an hour later, I checked again. I had zero reason to check again. It was much sooner than I'd checked before. Ami wasn't distressed and didn't have any notable changes in behavior. But my gut told me to check again, so I honored that. It took me quite awhile to find any heartbeat at all, which was concerning. It had been easy and quick all the times previously. When I finally found the heartbeat the rate was 170-190bpm. I knew that indicated fetal distress.
Whitman had started calling e-vets before I even checked the Doppler, that's how bad my gut feeling was. If nothing else I wanted to get her checked out. One of the two closest e-vets told him to bring Ami in.
I'd been texting with my vet off and on. I knew his ring time and new he wouldn't be able to get back to me quickly. I'd also been texting Laura Reeves, a friend and mentor, who was also at the dog show. She messaged me back as I was grabbing stuff to take Ami to the car and told me to go. My vet messaged me back when we were halfway through the 35 minute drive and told me to get her checked. If she checked out alright then we'd do a c-section that evening when he could.
We parked at the e-vet 35 minutes after leaving and called to let them know. They were out to get her within a minute. I gave a garbled history but I could see the vet tech's eyebrows raise when I mentioned using a Doppler and it indicating fetal distress. They rushed her back as Whitman added what I'd forgotten to say - we didn't want her spayed if it came to a c-section. The tech assured us we would cross that bridge when we came to it.
They called us less than ten minutes later. Whitman fielded the phone call. Both of us hate phone calls, but I am a stress/frustration crier. My mind functions perfectly fine, I just burst into tears, which isn't the most helpful when you're trying to communicate calmly and clearly. The surgeon told Whitman that she couldn't find any heartbeats (I knew from his tone before even hearing the relayed message) but they were going to get her on the table immediately and do a c-section. Whitman confirmed to YES use CPR if they started to lose her during the surgery and that we did not under any circumstances want her spayed. The surgeon almost seemed surprised and said she wouldn't consider spaying unless it was necessary to save the bitch's life. She assured us that she had been able to revive puppies whose heartbeats she couldn't find before if she got to them quick enough, so not to give up hope.
I got most of the message just hearing Whitman's side of the conversation. It's not even that my heart plummeted, it felt almost as if everything I'd feared was confirmed. I messaged my vet, Laura, and other breeder friends back to let them know (and so my vet didn't feel rushed to prep for a c-section). All I wanted was Ami back alive. I didn't care about the puppies. Even if they had needed to spay her, I didn't care. I just wanted my dog safe.
I finished the intake paperwork and took it back to the front desk. Everyone was sympathetic, saying how much they loved seeing sighthounds. We talked about flyball briefly and for just a moment I was able to forget how much my heart ached. One of the people at the desk apologized that they didn't have Azawakh in the system so they listed her as a hound mix and I thanked her, grateful for her letting me know what to expect. I saw Ami's surgeon breeze through the office informing them she would be going to surgery and couldn't be reached. I knew it was my dog they were talking about. I discussed that I had Trupanion with a breeding rider with the head of the office and he smiled and assured me he would get everything preapproved for me. I don't know what I would have done if everyone hadn't been calm and gentle and gracious. I think it's the only reason I could hold myself together.
We headed back out to the car to wait. As we left the staff assured us that no news was good news but if we wanted an update to call and ask. It was information that likely kept me sane. I had checked to find normal heartbeats around 1p. Found the puppy in distress forty minutes later. We were in the car less than 15 minutes later and got to the clinic around 2:30. Ami was on the operating table before 3p.
I told Whitman I needed to get away. We were in an industrial area and I didn't even take a coat (it was in the low 40s) or my phone. I just ran. It was stupid. It was reckless and I hurt so much I couldn't breathe. And I also never left sight of the car, at least keeping that much of my brain.
I came back and cried. And then called my mom. I got through that conversation. She was horrified for us and listened and asked questions. I felt better, telling someone not involved. I finally updated social media. Just the basics: Ami's labor hadn't progressed, the doppler had indicated the puppies were in distress, the surgeon hadn't found any heartbeats, Ami was in surgery, I wouldn't be checking the responses to the post, please keep private messages to a minimum until the next day when I had more brain space. I messaged my friend who was transporting Gem to us. She was due to arrive at 9:20 that night. I told her I wasn't sure we could make it to the airport to pick her up. My mom offered to go get her if need be. I silently thanked the world that Gem was a broken friendly Azawakh and I could plausibly send my only somewhat dog savvy mother to pick her up.
And then we waited an hour. Two. The empty parking lot turned to over full. I saw another person get out of their car in sweats and a coat several sizes too big as if it had been borrowed and sit down in the grass outside and scream and then tearfully call someone before quietly being collected by their companion and being guided back to the car. That car was there as long as we were, while most came and went.
My anxiety built. I went for another run. To be clear. I am not a running person. I walk (a lot) and hike (a lot) but with my asthma running just isn't my thing. Again Whitman asked me to take my phone, again I just shook my head and promised I wouldn't go out of sight of the car. Yes, they'd called Whitman before, but they had my number too and if it was bad news I couldn't bear to answer.
I ran down to the next stop light and back. Several times. Now I wore two coats as the sun was setting and the temperature had dropped. It was just before 5p. I passed by our car again and Whitman (on the phone) frantically gestured me over. He gave me a rather frenetic bouncy thumbs up. I breathed a sigh of relief that Ami was safe. He kept the thumbs up and added a steady nod. For the first time I had vague hope. Maybe one of the puppies had made it.
He hung up the phone telling me the surgeon had 98% good news. My eyebrows climbed higher and my spirits rose for the first time in days. Ami had flown through the surgery. She was in phenomenal shape. She was already up and ready to go home, but they were going to keep her awhile longer to let the anesthesia fully wear off. They said they loved her (Ami, like Gem, is a broken friendly Azawakh with people). She said they had found evidence of a resorption site (which they biopsied), and three mummified puppies that had resorbed as much as possible and let mostly the skeletons behind (which they saved to send off for a histiopathy). And they had revived one huge, vigorous puppy who was happily crawling around the incubator. The surgeon said it was likely I had heard multiple heartbeats previously, that those puppies had been active at one point, but even the largest had likely passed a week or two before and the puppy, like a goldfish, had grown to fit the size of her container. So yes, I had likely heard five distinct heartbeats on the Doppler. Yes there was an extra puppy on the x-ray my friend had seen, but it was already passed at that time. It was in fact likely that the other larger puppy on the x-ray had also passed at the time it was taken.
The surgeon said that Ami's uterine tone looked really good, there was no sign or any infection or blemish at all, including uterine cysts. She admitted she had no idea what had happened to the rest of the litter and guessed we wouldn't find evidence from the biopsy or hisiopathy. She suspected some virus that Ami hadn't expressed had passed to the puppies.
They gave us a two hour estimate before we picked up Ami and the puppy, so again, we waited. Whitman went and got food. I updated that Ami had made it out of surgery with flying colors. I kept my cards close to my vest though, which is not typical of me, and didn't disclose that a puppy had made it. It didn't seem real yet. I didn't trust that it was real. I was terrified something would go wrong and we would lose her and I didn't want to publicly share that update and then have to explain something had (once again) gone wrong. I updated my friend bringing Gem and told her Whitman could make it to the airport after all. I called my mom and will likely remember the surprise and delight in her tone when I told her a puppy had made it my whole life. I updated those who had helped me throughout the day and they were all thrilled to hear a puppy had made it.
7p came and went with no update. We finally called and they told us yes, we could take Ami and the puppy home. They would get them ready. Whitman asked if the puppy had eaten and the front desk staff (who had since gone through a shift change) weren't sure. I was concerned about getting Colostrum into the newborn puppy so that she received some of her mom's antibodies.
Finally they called us to come in. They explained the delay had been trying to get Ami to nurse the puppy. They said she'd been aggressive toward her and snapped at her. This is not uncommon for a maiden bitch who has a c-section. They've never been mothers before, they missed out on all the helpful hormones that natural birth kicks into gear.
A dog having a grand-mal seizure was brought in while we were doing discharge paperwork (they said they would bill Trupanion and then would send up the uncovered amount the next day). They brought Ami out at the same time and went to walk her right past the dog. I rushed to intercept, not knowing how Ami who is not a fan of dogs doing odd things normally and had just come out of anesthesia would respond. We stepped into an exam room.
They warned us to supervise at all times and if she didn't nurse to give the puppy goat's milk. I nodded and explained that I had formula. I asked them again if they'd fed the puppy, knowing if they'd given formula that the puppy would quickly become less able to absorb antibodies from Ami's colostrum. They said they hadn't but not to be concerned. I gave explaining my concern up and instead we sped through the rest of the aftercare instructions (stiches removal timeline, aftercare for Ami, pain medication, etc). They handed me back her muzzle we had sent back with her and said they hadn't needed it, she'd done great. I silently wondered why they hadn't muzzled her to feed the puppy and idly noted that the evening shift seemed to be less breeder friendly/knowledgeable and some of the written instructions made my eyebrows rise. (Keep the room at 85*?!). But ultimately they got us in order and they were kind and we got discharged.
I plopped the puppy in our warming box and Ami rode next to me in the backseat, as she had on our ride to the vet. I rubbed my hands all over the puppy and let her sniff. There was no way to get Ami to nurse the puppy in the car, there just wasn't enough room, so Whitman sped home. We got both girls settled in the whelping box. I took Ami's cone off and got her to lay down. She was hunched from the pain, but I also knew I had to get the puppy to nurse before I lost my timeline to get antibodies into the pup. I put a muzzle on Ami and kept a leash on her. Then we brought in the puppy.
Ami didn't object as we put the puppy on her. It took a few minutes but the baby eventually found a nipple and latched enough to nurse some. Ami slowly started to show more interest. She nosed at the pup with the muzzle. She didn't seem sharp or aggressive, just curious. We put the puppy back in the warming box and gave Ami some pain medication mixed into a special pudding I had prepped several days before. She ate with relish and it didn't take long for her to lose the hunched posture.
At this point, Whitman booked it to the airport to pick up Gem (the vet had been less than 10 minutes away from the airport, so it was a day full of driving). And I muzzled Ami again and put the puppy back on her. This time the pup latched much more readily and stayed nursing longer and Ami seemed immediately curious. Holding the leash to redirect immediately if needed I took Ami's muzzle off and she nosed the puppy a few times and started to clean her vigorously. I knew that if I could get her to clean the pup that would also help trigger hormones that would help with mothering.
I kept Ami muzzled for several more feedings and leashed for a couple days afterward and supervised constantly. But by the end of the first full day Ami was smitten with her puppy. Sometimes she tried to mother the other toys in the box and I could see she wanted more puppies to care for. She would fixate and obsess about cleaning her one puppy and then I would gently redirect her (sometimes needing to use the leash). She should a lot of symptoms of being low in calcium the first couple days (digging/nesting, obsessing, pushing the puppy around the box, etc) so we kept supplementing calcium quite a bit. But she ate readily and after the first night where she only stayed in the box long enough to nurse, she stayed in the box until I dragged her out to go potty.
While I knew Gem would be an easy adjustment (she's such a perfect girl), I was so impressed with how easily she slid into the pack dynamics though my dogs that needed more attention were staying with friends for the first week after Ami had her litter. Anubi and Amalu were staying with a flyball teammate. Azhidar was staying with a different flyball teammate. So it was just Ash and Tabiri. The boys left Gem alone which meant she warmed up quick. She loved Whitman immediately and remembered me happily. When she accidently came nose to nose with Ami, the two sniffed calmly, which is a huge deal since Ami is slow to warm up to dogs and was hormone ridden at the time. By the third day, Gem was happily sharing the couch the full day with Ash and Tabiri and watching curiously as I took Ami outside to potty.
I've finally had some luck now that Birdie is here. I have always intended to use musical theatre song titles for the litters I breed. I am starting with a B litter since I already have a house full of A names. And my mentor when I was in my training apprenticeship had brilliant, sweet lab named Birdie. It seemed a perfect name for the puppy- In Stride's Bye Bye Birdie, call name Birdie.
She has gained weight well and we keep a close eye on her to make sure she stays mobile and not overweight (which can be a huge problem with singelton puppies). She's a mobile girl - not looking for a hotter or colder place, seemingly crawling around the box just because she can. We added bumps and topography to her box early to simulate the effect of littermates as best we can and she has her stuffed animal littermates. Honestly, aside from a short bout of colic because of gas (fixed easily with baby gas drops), she's been a straightforward puppy thus far. This was the part I was prepared for, even if a singelton is different than I'd hoped or expected.
Ami truly has taken to motherhood. She loves her puppy and as long as calcium is on board she is calm and happy with her baby. She's grown more comfortable with us handling her and instead of panicking when Birdie motors across the whelping box out of her reach, she'll ask for help. There's been a learning curve with her for sure because when she needs something, she whines. But there was little indication what she needed, which has been hard for me. I've spent several days not understanding what she wanted. But we've come to an understanding and when she needs something she leads me to it (her leash, water food, etc). Or in the case of her colicky baby, who she couldn't help, she came to the bed in the middle of the night and poked me and led me back to the whelping box. She then stood they're calmly while I gave the pup baby gas drops. That marked a turning point for us. Before, she'd fussed whenever I had taken her baby to weight or handle or check hydration. Now she's a bit whiney but seems to understand we want to help. We've learned to speak a new language this week and I finally realized that most of the time when she gets restless, she's hot. I never expected that from a breed from the Sahel.
In many, many ways rearing this puppy her first week of life has been the easiest part. Oh, I'm certainly short on sleep, honestly, I'm exhausted. But I know what to expect. And then I think about how I'm lucky at the moment because it's very possible that this first week could instead have been continuing to fight for Birdie's life. It still could turn into that. And as I rethink and revamp my plans to fit with only having one puppy in my first litter, I think often about how crazy I must be. To have just gone through this experience and to shrug, sigh and think that at least I've gotten some of the trauma and heartbreak under my belt for next time.
I think about the really good people who wanted a puppy from this pairing and consider how a repeat litter works into my plans. I consider that I might not be able to afford a stud fee/AI breeding like I'd been planning for Gem's first litter and that I might need to use one of my own studs. I weigh if I can shift the people who were on my Anu x Ami litter to Gem's litter or if the interest list for that litter is too full for that to be a workable plan. I consider a dual sired litter with Tabiri and Anubi to minimize the deviation from my original plans.
And I think about why I do this, why so many of my friends do this. Why we risk our beloved dogs. I'm in a breed that is generally a free whelper, generally healthy, with limited complications. Yet this happened. But my beloved dogs are why I take this risk. And why I've had essentially no hesitation about continuing forward with my litter plans. I love my dogs dearly. I raise a good dog. My dogs have phenomenal temperaments. They have a rich history and fit my life in a way that makes it complete. I want to share that. I think it needs to be shared, because I love my dogs and there are people out there who are a great fit (though they can be hard to find).
I'm thankful I prepared for years. I'm thankful I read everything I could get my hands on and listened when breeder friends spoke. I worried when labor was slow to progress I had learned just enough to worry myself silly without anything being wrong. But my gut instincts were right. And I knew what to do when I needed to do it.
It's been a harrowing couple weeks, but it has been worth it and I don't have regrets.
PS- Trupanion and a breeding rider is the only thing that made a very expensive c-section worth it
PPS - The doppler is why my puppy is alive today, seedling heat mats are great, calcium is magical, and heartbeat Snuggle Puppies do help.